Progress Reported In U.N.-Iraqi Talks

MONDAY, DEC. 15, 1997

The U.N. weapons inspections chief reported progress Sunday in disarmament talks with Iraqis and said the next 48 hours could be decisive in the standoff over inspections at restricted sites, including presidential palaces.

Richard Butler said Iraqi and U.N. weapons experts discussed ballistic missiles and warheads in a two-hour session Sunday - their first talks since last month’s crisis over the inspections.

“The Iraqi side gave a report on where it thought the missile and warheads issue stood,” Butler told reporters. “It seems to me that some progress is being made.”

Later, Butler and his team met with an Iraqi delegation headed by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz for 3-1/2 hours, the official Iraqi News Agency said. It did not elaborate.

Butler had said earlier that chemical and biological weapons would be discussed at the meeting, and Iraq had promised to provide more information about the weapons.

Previous Iraqi disclosures about its biological weapons were insufficient and unsatisfactory, Butler said. “Verification in that area is among the hardest,” he said, adding he “anxiously” awaited Baghdad’s report.

The inspectors’ task is to ensure Iraq’s compliance with U.N. Security Council orders that mandate it get rid of its missile program and all weapons of mass destruction.

Until Iraq complies, the United Nations refused to lift sanctions imposed after Baghdad’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

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